Want to Beat Robots? Be Human!

Blog Series

By Sebastien Turbot

This blog was originally published on Forbes.

As parents in a hyper-competitive world, we are on a constant quest to give our children an edge.

We want to equip our kids with EVERY possible skill set mentioned in the titanic guide on achieving success in the 21st century. But this mission is doing more harm than we realize.

Our children are reeling under pressure. Anxiety has replaced excitement, disinterest overshadows curiosity and competition is beating the joy of learning. And amid all this, it is slowly diminishing our kids’ capacities to be tolerant and humane.

And now, with the imminent march of the machines, we are racing against time to ensure that our kids grow up to be smart, independent, creative thinkers. We are frantically looking for a magic formula that would allow us to co-exist with robots and machines, but the answer has always been before us: being human. 

And we are failing miserably to inculcate this core trait in our children.

Back in our day, good grades and a post-graduation degree certified a successful career and life. But today’s world needs a new kind of literacy: emotional literacy. Emotional intelligence and relationship skills are key to thrive in the 21st century. IQ is overshadowing EQ, but it is time to restore the balance.

Employers seek creative, collaborative and flexible individuals with strong communication and cognitive skills. But that’s not all. They also want people with strong emotional skills who can understand what the clients are really feeling and can forge strong lasting relationships with them.

I am often asked if it is actually possible to teach values like compassion and empathy, especially to a self-absorbed “selfie generation.” Indeed, empathy is a complex concept that we rarely see implemented into action in schools. But it is possible to inculcate values like empathy and benevolence.

According to psychologist and author Michele Borba, “Empathy is a quality that can be taught — in fact, it’s a quality that must be taught–by parents, by educators and by those in a child’s community. And what’s more, it’s a talent that kids can cultivate and improve, like riding a bike or learning a foreign language.”

Educators and social entrepreneurs around the world who integrate emotional learning in their respective learning ecosystems vouch for its benefits on classroom engagement and learning outcomes. Today schools are increasingly multicultural and gather students from different economic backgrounds. Social and emotional literacy create a positive learning environment.

While schools around the world are increasingly leveraging movement and expressions through dance to teach learners socio-emotional skills, programs like Roots of Empathy and Turnaround for Children are helping foster positive relationships.

Roots of Empathy teaches children to become kinder human beings. Founded in 1996 by child advocate and parenting expert Mary Gordon, this experiential learning program leverages the relationship between an infant and its parents to children empathy and emotional literacy.

Turnaround for Children plays a big role in shaping children’s lives, especially those who witness violence and deprivation. Through this program, traumatized children have access to counseling and support that help them to forge trusting relationships. Teachers are given a set of practices that help them to promote positive relationships between adults and children.

Researchers and organizations are leaving no stone unturned to introduce the emotional factor in everyday learning. Stanford University’s Empathy at Scale leverages virtual reality to put learners at the heart of another person’s life by “walking a mile” in his or her shoes. The Program bids to teach empathy toward those with disabilities, different age groups, skin color and varied economic backgrounds.

In a recent interview with KQED, Jamil Zaki, an assistant professor of psychology, who helped Stanford’s Virtual Reality Lab team design its study, said, “Once you understand the world as someone else sees it, and inhabit their inner life, you’re on the hook! You now, in essence, have a responsibility to care for that person, and maybe invest in their well-being.”

And this is what being human is all about. 

So as we gear up for the global march of the machines, we have to arm our kids to the teeth with skills like trust, tolerance, compassion and confidence. For these are the profit-reaping currencies of the future that will help beat emotion-deficient robots.

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Sébastien Turbot is the curator and director of global programs at the Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education. Follow him on Twitter: @sturbot.


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